Picture Book University: Thinking in Pictures

Welcome to the sixth lesson! Today, I'm going to focus on something very specific to picture books. If you get a handle on this, you'll see writing picture books in a whole new way! Many times I hear new writers often ask what is the difference between writing a picture book and a short story. I've seen this in the submissions for critiques as well. Instead of submitting a real picture book, they've written a short story because it's text/dialog heavy and the story develops in one place or two.

A picture book must be very visual. Even though you're not an illustrator, you still must visualize your story throughout its conception. There must be AT LEAST 16 different scene changes throughout your story. And when I mean scene changes, I mean the story isn't in one room and the main character is doing something different--I mean the scenery around your character must change! Have you ever picked up a book and the scenery is the same on every page? Have you ever read a book like that to a child? They become bored and antsy. The words are not enough to keep them attracted. That's the whole concept of a picture book--the child needs to be stimulated as they are listening to the words.

When I approach writing a new picture book, I always start with pictures to facilitate ideas. If my story isn't visual, then I abandon it. I use a storyboard pad in order to draw pictures. Here's a link to a page you can just print out on your own: Storyboard Pad or you can buy some here: Levenger storyboard pads

Here's a picture of how I started PRINCESS PEEPERS PICKS A PET. Notice how absolutely AWFUL I am as an illustrator. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm thinking of scenes visually.

In every single picture book that I write, I always use this pad. I didn't always have this tool--in fact, my first two books were written without the pad and it was very hard coming up with some of the funny scenarios because I only had my mind and my words. The storyboard pad opened up a whole new world to me! And as a math writer, I really needed that since I work out story math problems with my characters.

Here's a picture from MULTIPLYING MENACE DIVIDES where I work out the way the division math would work. I had to think in fractions. Here’s one page example when I had to show how the division magic worked with dividing twelve kittens. I brainstormed some ways I could show this on the storyboard paper:

Next is how it ended up looking like in the book:

I could never have figured out the math without my storyboard pad that encouraged pictures.

Now, I never brainstorm a story without this pad. Here's one of my newest manuscripts. It's very visual and the whole story depends on how visually appealing it is--in words.

My daughter found my pad and started drawing her own version of the character, too!

Assignment 6:

Check out at least five picture books that are in the same genre as your current work-in-progress. How did the author think in pictures throughout? Did they do a good job on making the pictures interesting? (And even though you're not the illustrator, your story will create the pictures surrounding it. It's pretty amazing to see this happen when you get the illustrations back from the publisher.)

Now look at your manuscript. Are there at least 16 or more different scenes? If not, how can you create new places for your story to go? Can you focus on your story's character? Make them do something zany? Something visually funny or charming or interesting?

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Have a great writing day!


Tina Cho said...

Excellent post, Pam. Thanks for the idea of using this pad. I'll have to try it for my wip.

I read Multiplying Menace. Was really good and clever!

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Thanks for a peek at using storyboard pad. I'm going to print some out and give it a try!

Carrie F said...

I NEED one of those pads. I love it!! What a great way to brainstorm. I loved seeing your initial sketch/idea, too and then the finished product. Thanks for sharing!

Pam Calvert said...

Glad you ladies liked it.

Thanks, Tina for the kind words about Multiplying Menace! :-)

Lovingmama said...

I've been sketching alongside my writing, but LOVE the pad organization and will try that on my next one! Went back on my current finished manuscript to look over the visual places and was pleasantly surprised at all the wonderful places they went! Does this hold true for beginning chapter books too???? With the new common core standards being used in the classrooms throughout the US, I predict that more teachers and parents will be using your books as a resource for ways to help make math fun, exciting, and possible! You are so talented! Can't wait for you next book.